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Dos Factotum » Archive » Becoming A Citizen, Again, This Time Amongst Many Immigrants

Becoming A Citizen, Again, This Time Amongst Many Immigrants

February 12th, 2008

Hand signals

Anyone fortunate enough to have been at Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center DMV this morning would have come across about 60 of America’s finest Albanians, Haitians, Southeast Asians, some other “others,” many unhappy children, and me. No, I wasn’t there cruising for FOtB tail this time, but rather to take the New York State learner’s permit written test so I can drive a car without fear of being pulled over and beaten by the Five-O.

Months ago, I’d tried to exchange my Ohio license for a New York one but was denied on the grounds that it had been expired for over a year. Some law says that’s how it’s got to be. When I asked the DMV lady if she could just, you know, wink wink, give me a New York license anyway, she turned around and pretended to be busy with something else, so I left, content to be a non-driver forever.

And what would I need a license for? If you have enough stubble and some “I’m an adult” button downs, not having valid ID isn’t much of a problem: only bouncers at places I don’t drink at tend to ask for it. But when you’re supposed to visit your Dad in Richmond, Virginia with your ladyfriend (a grownup who can drive), and she’s like “We should split driving” and you’re like “But I don’t have my—” and she’s like “Get one,” you take baby steps towards getting a driver’s license.

So last night, using the magic of the Internet, I scanned New York State’s learn-to-drive e-manual and took the practice e-quizzes. I read up on topics I hadn’t cared about since I was 15 and a half, like stop signs, hospital signs, .08% BAC, cars, the right-of-way and what to do if you miss your exit on the highway (don’t break hard). Although the quizzes should be cake for any English speaker with common sense, I pulled a few C’s, and one D minus. I went to bed humbled.

It’s hard to find the Atlantic Center DMV. After getting off the Q (imagine that: me, on the Q!) a little after nine a.m., I wandered around the LIRR platform, lost and uncaffeinated. And phlegmy. Moments later I was walking through a Target, sipping McDonald’s coffee. Little did I know a people tube (or gerbilrun, as it’s called I think exclusively by Midwesterners) connects the Atlantic Terminal complex (where I was) to Atlantic Center complex (where the DMV is). The helpful Target employee I asked for directions called it a “walkingbridge.”

I took this walkingbridge into the DMV and asked about the learner’s permit test. The DMV lady gave me a form to fill out and directed me to a room full of Indian men, Albanian women, a Hassid, and a little Hispanic cutie. Some test takers noticeably struggled with the English; others looked liked they’d been there awhile, retaking it after failing a few times. I sat next to the Hispanic cutie, finished the test in about three minutes and turned it in. Then an older DMV employee said “Mr. Grim!” as if I’d won something. I raised my hand. The Hispanic cutie looked at me, proud but seemingly jealous, and said “You passed.”

Indeed, I’d passed. Didn’t miss one, not even the bullshit hypothetical about what to do if you accidentally veer onto the highway’s soft shoulder. I put the $55 fee on my credit card and smiled for the odd-looking camera—”Let’s try that again. Chin up this time.”

Now I just need to pay some nogoodnick hundreds of dollars for DMV-sanctioned driving lessons and pass the road test, and I’ll be street legal.

I’m pretty sure a flight to Richmond would have been cheaper—and with less glaring, sleepy-eyed Albanians.

Ryan Grim

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